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Venezuela says 10 Colombian paramilitaries killed in Caracas clashes so far

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Venezuelan security forces take positions in an operation to capture members of criminal gangs, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by Reuters)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says 10 Colombian “paramilitaries” have been among those killed during clashes between security forces and armed gangs over the past week.

Maduro said the paramilitaries were offering training to the armed gangsters who have been engaging in combat with security forces in the capital, Caracas, since last Wednesday.

Maduro confirmed that Venezuelan police had captured three out of a total of 20 Colombian paramilitaries. Ten, he said, had been taken out and others were on the run.

“I don’t know if the number they gave me is exact, 10 killed, and there are others fleeing and we are looking for them,” the Venezuelan president said in a statement made at the Miraflores presidential palace on Monday.

The armed confrontations first broke out in the capital city last Wednesday evening, terrifying local residents and forcing them to flee their homes in some neighborhoods.

The clashes have also led to the displacement of thousands of civilians along the border with Colombia since March 21.

Venezuela says the armed gangsters are linked to drug trafficking groups or Colombian President Ivan Duque. However, security sources in Colombia claim that they are likely dissidents of the disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

Maduro said the paramilitaries had been training “criminals and terrorists” for months.

“They had trenches, they had a place called the bunker, they had a logistical preparation typical of paramilitaries for a war in Caracas,” added the Venezuelan president, affirming that “between 200 to 300 criminals” were paid with money earned from drug trafficking.

Only last Saturday, following two days of skirmishes between Venezuelan security forces and the armed gangs that operate in poor neighborhoods in western Caracas, at least 22 gang members and four members of the security forces were killed.

Interior Minister Carmen Melendez said an unspecified number of civilians had also been killed and 28 had been wounded, 18 of them bystanders.

In the Saturday clashes, 2,500 security forces were mobilized to regain control of Cota 905, a popular district of Caracas. After two days of heavy gunfire, Venezuelan police seized 24,000 rounds of ammunition, three rocket launchers, five rifles, four submachine guns, and several handguns from the gangsters.

There were enough “bullets for a year-long war,” Maduro said, without clarifying if the 10 paramilitaries were among those killed specifically on Saturday. He also said that part of the weapons cache belonged to the Colombian national police and the Colombian army.

President Maduro says Colombia, together with the United States, seeks to overthrow him. Bogota and Washington have made no secret of that intention.

Venezuela and Colombia, which share a 2,200-kilometer border, engaged in a diplomatic dispute in January 2019, after Bogota recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader. The US had already offered Guaido such recognition.

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